Kaiser Health News Original Stories

2. When Prisons Need To Be More Like Nursing Homes

By 2030, nearly one-third of all inmates will be over 55, the ACLU says, and caring for aged prisoners often costs twice as much as caring for younger ones. Some states – New York, California and Connecticut -- are confronting the problem, however, with innovative programs meant to improve care and save money. (Maura Ewing, The Marshall Project, 8/27)

3. Political Cartoon: 'Calm B-4 The Storm'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Calm B-4 The Storm'" by Dan Reynolds.

Here's today's health policy haiku:


Power to patients!
Is that the outcome when some
Hospitals post scores?

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Health Law Issues And Implementation

4. Some States' Big Premium Hikes May Be Talking Point During Enrollment Season, Campaigns

The Wall Street Journal reports that some insurers are winning approval by state regulators of hefty increases in health insurance premiums. Meanwhile, Florida news outlets report on what the numbers look like in that state.

The Wall Street Journal: Insurers Win Big Health-Rate Increases
At a July town hall in Nashville, Tenn., President Barack Obama played down fears of a spike in health insurance premiums in his signature health law’s third year. “My expectation is that they’ll come in significantly lower than what’s being requested,” he said, saying Tennesseans had to work to ensure the state’s insurance commissioner “does their job in not just passively reviewing the rates, but really asking, ‘OK, what is it that you are looking for here? Why would you need very high premiums?’” That commissioner, Julie Mix McPeak, answered on Friday by greenlighting the full 36.3% increase sought by the biggest health plan in the state, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. (Radnofsky and Armour, 8/26)

The Miami Herald: Obamacare Health Insurance Premiums To Rise 9.5 Percent For 2016, State Regulator Reports
Health insurance premiums for Floridians who buy their own plans will rise 9.5 percent on average for 2016, though some consumers will pay less for their coverage than they did this year, state insurance regulators reported Wednesday. A total of 19 health insurance companies submitted rate filings to Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation, which this year regained the authority to deny rate increases for health plans sold on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchange at HealthCare.gov. Average rate changes for 2016 plans sold on the ACA exchange will range from a decrease of nearly 10 percent for some plans, to an increase of as much as 16 percent for others. (Chang, 8/27)

Tampa Bay Times: Premiums For Obamacare To Rise 9.5 Percent Overall In Florida
Floridians who purchase individual health insurance plans under Obamacare will see their premiums rise by an average of 9.5 percent next year, the state Office of Insurance Regulation said Wednesday. That's about $36 per month or $432 per year. The average rate change varies widely by insurance company. Four insurers offering plans on Florida's federally run Affordable Care Act insurance exchange will have average increases in the double digits: Aetna (13.9 percent), Humana (16.3 percent), Preferred Medical Plan (14 percent) and UnitedHealthcare (16.4 percent). But some consumers will end up paying less for health insurance than they did in 2015. Celtic Insurance Co., Health Options, Florida Health Care Plan, and Molina Health Care are set to decrease their rates. (McGrory, 8/26)

5. Judge Rules Ariz. Hospital Fee To Pay For Medicaid Expansion Is Legal

Lawmakers in Arizona approved the plan, but opponents said the vote required a supermajority, which a judge rejected. In Alaska, lawmakers that have taken Gov. Bill Walker to court over a proposed Medicaid expansion there get their day in court.

The Arizona Republic: Judge: Arizona Medicaid Expansion Was Constitutional
The Arizona Legislature needed only a simple-majority vote to expand the state’s Medicaid program in 2013, a Superior Court judged ruled on Wednesday. The case hinges on whether a hospital assessment lawmakers approved to fund the expansion, which extended health-care coverage to more than 250,000 low-income Arizonans, is a fee, as its proponents argued, or a tax. (Pitzl, 8/26)

The Associated Press: Judge Says Arizona Medicaid Plan Hospital Fee Constitutional
A judge ruled Wednesday that a hospital assessment that pays for the expansion of the state's Medicaid program did not require a supermajority vote of the Legislature to be enacted and is therefore constitutional. The ruling from Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Douglas Gerlach comes more than 18 months after the expansion went into effect and means about 350,000 Arizonans who have gained coverage will continue to receive health care insurance. (Christie, 8/26)

Alaska Dispatch News: Alaska Legislature's Medicaid Lawsuit Gets First Court Hearing Thursday
The Alaska Legislature’s high-stakes lawsuit to stop Gov. Bill Walker from expanding the state’s public Medicaid health care program gets its first appearance in court Thursday. ... Margaret Paton-Walsh, one of the state attorneys managing the team of lawyers working on Walker’s defense, said she expected to be at her office past midnight Wednesday, with a filing deadline at 11 a.m. Thursday. It's not clear, she added, whether Pfiffner would issue a ruling from the bench Thursday, or some time later. The Legislature is seeking a court order that would stop Walker’s administration from acting unilaterally to expand Medicaid under provisions of Obamacare to newly cover up to 40,000 low-income Alaskans. Without an order, expansion is set to take effect Sept. 1, based on a 45-day notice Walker gave a legislative committee in July. (Herz, 8/26)

6. Support For Health Law Grows To 62% In California, Survey Finds

According to the annual Field Poll, while most Republicans still oppose the law, nearly half say that Obamacare has met key goals like lowering the uninsured rate. Statewide, 58 percent approve of the way California runs its health services.

Another California-based study looks at patient views of the health law's impact on prescription drugs coverage -

California Healthline: Did the ACA Improve Access To Rx Drugs? Some Patients Don't Think So
Health plans offered through the ACA's exchanges are required to cover prescription drugs, but insurers get to decide their own drug formularies -- and those can vary significantly from plan to plan. And while insurers are required to publicly post details of their drug coverage policies, the formularies often are "incomplete, inaccurate or difficult to navigate due to lack of standardization and confusing or inaccessible consumer cost information," according to a California-based study released this month by the California HealthCare Foundation. (Rosenfeld, 8/26)

Capitol Hill Watch

7. Budget Issues Top Congressional To-Do List When Lawmakers Return To Capitol Hill

Other hot topics include efforts to resuscitate a provision regarding care for medically complex kids that was dropped from the House-passed Cures bill. Patent issues are also emerging.

Reuters: When Congress Returns From Vacation, Budget Fight Looms
Republican Senator Ted Cruz, also a candidate [for the Republican presidential nomination], has led a charge to kill federal funding for Planned Parenthood after secretly taped videos showed technicians for the women's health organization gathering fetal tissue from abortions. Cruz and other conservatives have tried to use must-pass spending bills, like the one coming due Oct. 1, as vehicles to kill Obama's healthcare law and immigration policies. The strategy has failed but has forced temporary agency shutdowns. (8/27)

CQ Healthbeat: Medicaid Kids Bill Seen As Bipartisan Rallying Point
Backers of a plan to ease Medicaid restrictions on treating children with complex medical needs across state lines are trying to make it a bipartisan rallying point after the proposal was dropped from the House-passed “21st Century Cures” bill. Republican sponsor Joe L. Barton of Texas is pressing for a fall hearing on a measure (HR 546) addressing the effects of the program's state-specific coverage requirements and said it could pass as stand-alone legislation. The Senate companion bill is backed by Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa. (Zanona, 8/26)

CQ Healthbeat: Conservatives Ramp Up Opposition To Patent Legislation
A group of conservative luminaries is distributing a "Memo for the Movement" urging colleagues to oppose House and Senate legislation that would make it more difficult for patent holders to sue others for infringement. The memorandum, which began circulating last Friday, is signed by former Reagan administration Attorney General Edwin Meese III, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II and former Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, among others. (Zeller, 8/26)

Also in the news, the White House plans for the pope's visit -

The Associated Press: Obama To Seek Unity With Pope On Issues In White House Visit
Despite deep differences on some social issues such as abortion, Obama and the pope are expected to focus on areas of agreement. The White House said economic opportunity, immigration and refugees, and protection of religious minorities were high on the agenda. ... When he visited Francis early last year, Obama contradicted the official Vatican account of their meeting by saying they hadn't discussed social issues in any detail. Papal aides insisted the two leaders indeed discussed religious freedom, life and conscientious objection - buzzwords for abortion, birth control and parts of Obama's health care law. (8/26)